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Ontario's self-appointed storyteller

Lieutenant Governor spends two days in city absorbing local stories

A self-described collector and champion of Ontario stories, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Elizabeth Dowdeswell spent two days in Guelph this week gathering some of our stories.  

During a reception with dignitaries and notable Guelphites on Wednesday, Dowdeswell said that Guelph’s stories tell of a strong sense of connectedness, particularly between the university and the broader community.

There is also evidence, she said, that the community not only talks the sustainability talk, but walks the sustainability walk, recognizing that economic prosperity must go hand-in-hand with environmental stewardship and social cohesion.

Dowdeswell said Ontarians are not known for telling their own stories well, so she’ll do her best to do it on behalf of the communities of the province. Guelph has many good stories that need to be shared far and wide, she said.

At various points during the meet-and-greet at the Guelph Civic Museum, Dowdeswell spent several minutes speaking with Lucky Iron Fish founder and CEO Gavin Armstrong.

When Armstrong motioned to present her with a small, fish-shaped ingot — used to combat iron deficiency — the graceful Dowdeswell said she was very familiar with the Lucky Iron Fish success story.

At another stage in her rounds, Dowdeswell spoke with hulking Olympic wrestler Korey Jarvis, and appeared enthralled by the stories the towering figure had to tell. Jarvis, 29, recently had a WWE professional wrestling audition. He lost two bouts and won one at the Rio Olympic Games.

Dowdeswell told the gathering that she travels the province asking people in various towns and cities what they are proud of about their communities, and what the emerging challenges are.

“Perhaps it’s because we are going to be celebrating our 150th anniversary next year that my attention is turned to, not just the celebration of what we can be so proud of, but also taking the time to have a dialogue about what kind of country and community we want to be, going forward,” she told the gathering.  

It is clear to her from her time in Guelph that the city has vision, and “thinks beyond the short-term mandates of elected, political administrations, and thinks about the long-term benefits to the community.”

Although Ontario doesn’t tell its stories very well, she noted that there are creative people in every community – citizens who come up with innovative ways of dealing with the challenges we all face. Sharing those stories across Ontario is of help to others in the province and around the world. 

“So, I’m going to take the liberty of appointing myself the province’s chief storyteller,” she said. “Because there are wonderful stories to be told. In my job, I can get to be very proud, and say so. So, the stories of Guelph will be told just down the road at the next community and beyond our borders as well.”

In an interview, Dowdeswell said one of the positives about Guelph is its low unemployment rate. But, on the other hand, there is part of the population that is struggling to make ends meet.

“I guess the biggest challenge is complacency,” she said. “There continues to be problems with affordable and accessible housing. But I think what distinguishes this community from some others is that there is a recognition of it.”

Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie indicated during the reception that Dowdeswell’s visit brought together many in the community who had success stories to share. She absorbed those stories and shared them at every opportunity during her visit. 

“I personally want to thank you for sharing all the great work that’s going on in our community,” Guthrie said.


Rob O'Flanagan

About the Author: Rob O'Flanagan

Rob O’Flanagan has been a newspaper reporter, photojournalist and columnist for over twenty years. He has won numerous Ontario Newspaper Awards and a National Newspaper Award.
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